The horror of what people have to go through during times of war is often difficult to contemplate and we are fortunate that most of us will never have to experience this. It is undeniable however that war can have a significant impact on the way a landscape is shaped, and an examination of Cedynia Landscape Park cannot be separated from what happened in World War II. Our visit to this area therefore started with a trip to the National Remembrance Museum to enable us to understand the impact the war had on this area, which still affects the landscape today.
The Oder River (Odra in Polish) now forms the Germany/Poland border. However prior to the war, this area was part of eastern Germany and during the war the river formed an important barrier for the Soviet army to cross as they advanced on Berlin. As a result, there were several battles at crossing points along the river, as soldiers struggled to build bridges that would allow machinery to cross (the image shows a suit used by soldiers to cross the river while building bridges). The fascinating displays in the museum provided an indication of what it must have been like to be involved in this struggle and gave the context for understanding what is, in many ways, a unique landscape.
In 1945 the Polish border was moved west to the Oder/Neisse line and the vast majority of the German population fled or were expelled to be replaced by Polish people, many of whom came from the eastern half of the country and territories that had recently been annexed by the Soviet Union. These changes created the scenario of a population moving into a landscape with which they had no connection, and whose culture was not based in the West Pomerania region.
This lack of connection to the land has been compounded by the significant political and administrative changes following the fall of communism and recent entry into the European Union. This became an ever clearer theme as we explored the landscape and learned more about how the area was managed. The result was a feeling of many things being at an early stage, even extending to the government organisation that ran the Landscape Park, which had only been in existence for 3 years. The landscape parks in Poland are very different to the national parks (see case study 1), instead of being purely for nature conservation, the landscape parks take far more account of the cultural heritage of an area. The less stringent restrictions within landscape parks 6 enable more opportunity for access and interpretation however also create the possibility of the focus slipping from the natural heritage aspects of the area.
Our next stop was an old railway bridge that crossed the river to Germany over a beautiful wetland area. The wetland, which was once part of the River Oder course, was full of life but the bridge itself was in a state of disrepair, and was too dangerous for the general public to use. The contrast with the German side of the river, which we were able to view later in the day, was quite stark. In Germany well maintained cycling paths and visitor access were clearly being used regularly but none of this tourism was brought to the Polish side as there was simply no way to cross the river and enjoy the often less disturbed habitats on the eastern bank of the river
This issue was something well understood by the park staff, who were developing exciting plans with the local community to turn the old railway bridge into a cycle path, linking both sides of the river. This would create a unique way to experience the wetland and would be likely to be a very popular attraction. It would also allow the area to build on what is the key selling point of the Cedynia Landscape Park, the fact that, due to the border changes after the war, the landscape is less developed and more ‘natural’ than you will find on the German side of the river.
Our next stop was the walled city of Moryn located just outside the Landscape Park. In many ways this town demonstrated the lack of identity that has defined this area of Poland since the war. The town was attractive, with many historic buildings having been restored since the destruction of the war and a large deep lake located right on its edge.
A walk down to the lake revealed a series of models of prehistoric creatures including mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, a slightly unexpected exhibition given the surrounding landscape. These models and the nearby geological park displaying eratic boulders that had been shifted by glaciers, attempt to create an identity for the area that looks back to a distant past, rather than on the wealth of nature that exists in the area today.
Following this visit we headed back into the Landscape Park and were lucky enough to experience more of the area’s fantastic wildlife, including hunting ospreys, soaring white-tailed eagles and beautiful red-backed shrikes, all of which added to the impression that it was the creatures of today, rather than those no longer around, that should be the focus for interpretation in this landscape. The first day in Cedynia Landscape Park ended with a walk up to a viewpoint above the valley which revealed the patchwork of different habitats and land uses, and the contrasting developments of the German and Polish banks of the river.
The following day we had the opportunity to explore the beech forests of Bielinek nature reserve, this forest was impressive in its scale and many of the group had never actually seen beech trees of that size. There was also an area within the reserve where downy oak (Quercus pubescens) grew, a species native to southern Europe but that has been able to grow on the reserve due to the steep south facing slope of the Odra Valley and the resulting microclimate.
Our visit to Cedynia Landscape Park concluded with a trip to Poland’s most northerly winery. This business had been the recipient of significant private and public funding and was modern and entrepreneurial but was housed in a beautifully renovated traditional barn. The vines are grown with minimal chemical input and the manager and his daughter who ran the wine tastings obviously felt a lot of pride and care for not only their business but the landscape in which it was based. This was another example of the creation of a new business in the area that relies on the ecosystem services of the Park and could benefit from marketing that links to the Park’s identity. There is no doubt that attractions like this winery add to the tourism package that this area has to offer.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The Cedynia Landscape Park is a truly remarkable place. It is an area shaped by the impact of war where displacement has created a landscape where the connection between the local population and the land has in many ways been lost. This lack of connection has, however, enabled wildlife to flourish, with a lack of development pressure giving nature the space to breathe. This has created a quite unique situation of a landscape where there is a fascinating history and amazing wildlife, yet one where the sense of pride one would normally associate with such an area is missing.
There have clearly been attempts to try and instil a sense of place, and though this visit was too short to get a true sense of how effective this has been, it appears that this connection is not yet very strong. One example of this was in the town of Moryn, where a display of extinct mammals had been created as a visitor attraction. It was certainly good fun to explore but did not feel completely linked to the landscape, more of a curiosity than an interpretation of the area.
What this means is that there is an opportunity to create a sense of identity for the area, one which links the truly unique aspect of the landscape, the undisturbed nature, to the people that now live there. This could also give local communities a sense of pride in their landscape through knowing that it offers something truly unique that is a reason for people to go out of their way to come to the area and experience what it has to offer.
One of the first things that could be done to establish this area as the ‘landscape of nature’ is to create a link between the German bank of the Oder River, and the Polish bank. While the Polish side is full of wild places the German side is far more developed and used more heavily for agriculture. If visitors are interested in wildlife there is a clear motivation to cross the river to experience what the Cedynia Landscape Park has to offer. The problem is a lack of pedestrian or cycle crossing places.
The Landscape Park staff have identified this issue and are developing a plan with local communities to refurbish a disused railway bridge, creating a cycle path between Germany and Poland. If combined with interpretation promoting the wildlife of Cedynia, this could be a very successful project, bringing new custom to local businesses such as restaurants and shops. Specific nature trails could be created off the cycle track with bike racks to allow people to get off their bikes and explore the area, looking for white-tailed eagles, ospreys and beavers as well as many other species. Provision of mobile interpretation, for example an audio guide or App would add to the experience.
This could be the first step in creating a new identity for the region, much like in Scotland where Perthshire is now often referred to as big tree country. Cedynia has the opportunity to create its very own identity as there seems to be a blank canvass, so why not make wildlife that identity? This identity could be based on the concept that this is the place where nature has been allowed to flourish for years without much interference, creating ‘Nature’s Kingdom’ if you will.
If this identity can be established across the Park, with relevant infrastructure including links across the river to Germany then this has the potential to establish ecotourism in the area. This 9 would have the resulting benefit of reducing the incentive for habitat destruction through development, as this would be harming the very asset that makes the area so special. It would take time to establish, however it is clear from the park staff we met that there is a determination and enthusiasm to keep this area special and that is a vital first step when you want nature to grab people’s attention.
This is a fantastic area, with huge untapped potential in terms of ecotourism. With such an enthusiastic team behind it, the Cedynia Landscape Park has the potential to become a truly special wildlife destination that will make local people proud and draw visitors from far afield.
(Previous: Case Study 1: Ujscie Warty National Park)